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Today I Learned

The 7 Essential Criteria of Sustainable Forest Management-Part 1

The Montreal Process Criteria and Indicators were created in 1992 during the Earth Summit. They addressed the sustainable management of forests to conserve the overall range of critical functions and characteristics like carbon cycles, forest health, water and soil protection, biodiversity, and forest productivity.

In February 1995, the member countries, including the United States, Australia, Argentina, Canada, China, Japan, and others, adopted these set of criteria for use by the working groups assigned to gauge their practicality and value.

The criteria dubbed-“The Montreal Process Criteria and Indicators for Sustainable Forest Management”, were developed to focus on the challenge of assessing tangible progress towards forest conditions and sustainability.

The indicators are measurable components relating to a part of (or) the entire natural system, which can give insights into the condition of the forest ecosystem.

In today’s Nature’s Packaging post, we describe these essential criteria and explain their importance in sustainable forest management.

Criterion 1: Conservation of Biological Diversity

Biological diversity refers to the variety of life supported by Earth. It comprises distinct levels, including ecosystems, genes, species, and various creatures. The interactions of these levels make the earth habitable. However, in the wake of the climate change threats, the entire concept of biodiversity is under threat, which is why the first criterion focuses on the conservation of biological diversity.

Both harvest prepared and natural forests play a significant part in biodiversity. They are part of ecosystems where different life forms interact with the environment and allow the system to respond to changes, recover from disturbances, and ensure the sustainability of ecological processes.

Human activities tend to adversely affect biodiversity by altering habitats, extinction of species, reducing indigenous populations, and introducing invasive species. Conserving biological diversity allows the forest ecosystems to function properly and provide broader environmental and economic value (forest products).

In this criterion, there are a total of nine indicators. The first three are concerned with the diversity of the ecosystem, describing the type, amount, and organization of forests which provide insights into the ability of forests to support organisms and ecological processes. The other six indicators are concerned with the number and biological diversity of plants and animals supported in these habitats, focusing on the species and genes.

Criterion 2: Maintenance of Productive Capacity of Forest Ecosystems

Populations worldwide rely on forests directly for a multitude of forest-based products. The sustainability of these products is directly linked to the forests’ productive capacity, and if the requirements exceed the limit of that capacity, the ecosystem is depleted or damaged.

Thus, populations must ensure the sustainability of forests by determining acceptable levels of extraction of all the forest-based products that will not collapse the ecosystem. This must also account for the type of forest-based products in demand and how that demand changes due to social, technological, and economic trends advancements. Variations in a forests’ productive capacity can be a signal to modify those trends or other factors affecting the ecosystems.

The second criterion thus focuses on maintaining the productive capacities of forests. It has five indicators, where the first four indicators track conventional measures relating to the trends and status of the forests that support wood supplies. The last indicator focuses on the trends of non-wood products extracted from these forests.

Criterion 3: Maintenance of Ecosystem Health and Vitality

The expansion of a forests health and vitality is dependent on the functioning of the ecosystem’s processes and components. Any natural ecosystem, to maintain its functions and active processes, must have the ability to recover from external disturbances. While most disturbances and stress are natural, some extreme occurrences overwhelm the ecosystem, undermining its ability to function effectively.

As a result, there can be severe ecological and economic consequences, including environmental degradation and elimination of forests benefits to the society. Forest ecosystem health and vitality maintenance efforts can help minimize and mitigate these risks.

The criterion for maintenance of ecosystem health and vitality has three indicators. The indicators focus on the area and percentage of forests affected by circumstances beyond historic variations, lands affected by specific levels of air pollutants, and lands with significantly reduced biological components due to changes in critical ecological processes.

Criterion 4: Conservation and Maintenance of Soil and Water Resources

Soil and water are the core components of a functioning and productive forest ecosystem. These forest components are essential in the regulation of groundwater. Further, the health of underground water systems is directly impacted by topography, soil, and water interactions. The interdependence of soil and water and forest ecosystems makes their conservation an essential aspect of forest management.

The interactions involved can significantly affect habitats and poor management can result in the loss of riparian buffering capability, degradation of aquatic habitats, and soil compaction. Water flow changes can result in flooding risks which threaten the lives of humans and other organisms.

It is the fourth criterion and has five indicators. The first four indicators focus on soil and water resources protection and management practices. In contrast, the last indicator is the size of water bodies with the noteworthy changes in physical, chemical, and biological properties.

 

Join Nature’s Packaging next week as we finish up with the remaining criteria in our next blog post, “The 7 Essential Criteria for Sustainable Forest Management – Part 2”

Today I Learned: Healthy Sustainable Forestry – Part 2

The 10 Principles for FSC-certified Forests

The Forest Stewardship Council sets clear standards for responsible forestry to achieve their mission. They set out a list of ten principles that need to be in place in an FSC-certified forest. These apply to all forests, regardless of the country, forest size, type, or whether it’s a natural forest or a plantation.

These ten principles are:

  1. Compliance with relevant laws and regulations. This includes all relevant international treaties or conventions.
  2. Commitment to workers’ rights and adequate employment conditions. This commitment is in line with the FSC’s focus on social policies, as well as the purely environmental ones. The goal must be to maintain or improve the economic and social well-being of the forest workers.
  3. Indigenous peoples’ rights. They promote and protect indigenous peoples’ legal and traditional property ownership rights, usage, and management. This protection covers the land, the overall territories, and the resources affected by the forestry management activities.
  4. Community relations. They must contribute to ensuring that the social and economic well-being of the local communities is maintained or improved.
  5. Managing the benefits obtained from the forest. Good management of forest products is essential to ensure long-term financial sustainability. As a result, the forests will be able to continue providing social and ecological benefits.
  6. Upholding environmental values and minimizing impact. The goal has to be to avoid adverse environmental effects as much as possible or repair them as needed. This includes protecting biodiversity, water resources, landscapes, soil quality, and the overall forest ecosystem.
  7. Planning the management of the forest.The forest’s management plan has to be updated regularly, based on the continuous monitoring carried out, to make sure that it’s adapted to any changes in conditions. The plan has to outline the long-term objectives and how to achieve them.
  8. Ongoing monitoring and assessment of the management activities. Continuous monitoring is carried out to measure the progress against the management plan and track the forest’s condition. Based on this monitoring, the program can be updated as needed.
  9. Maintaining forests with high conservation value. Any activities in forests with a high conservation value need to ensure the protection and enhancement of that value.
  10. Compliance when implementing management activities. These activities must comply with these ten principles and the subsequent 70 criteria established by the FSC that apply to their certified forests.

When forests comply with these principles and are FSC-certified, products made from their wood can carry the FSC logo.

What different types of certification does the FSC offer?

Different types of FSC certifications are available for businesses, as well as the better-known forest-management certification.

Being certified by the council means that the company’s products or projects have been assessed and determined to meet the FSC’s criteria for sustainable forestry, including social and environmental concerns.

These are the main types of certifications available:

Forest management.

For a forest to be FSC certified, it must comply with the ten principles stated above and the more detailed criteria that explain how to implement each one.

An FSC-certified forest balances long-term economic viability with the preservation of ecological biodiversity and the welfare of the local communities.

Chain of custody.

This certification ensures that FSC-certified wood is identified through the supply chain, from the forest to the final manufacturer and end consumer.

This way, we can be sure if a final product in the market comes from certified wood and feel confident that it won’t have been mixed up with non-certified wood.

Construction projects.

FSC-certified wood is not only destined for use in consumer products. It can also be used as materials in construction projects.

Through certification, construction companies can build their corporate sustainability goals directly into their project design and use the FSC trademarks to promote them.

How does the FSC work with different sectors?

They work together with organizations from different industries that have a common goal of sustainable forestry practices in the supply chain. This collaboration helps to raise awareness about responsible forestry initiatives within these industries and brings them closer to meeting social responsibility objectives.

They have developed a set of assets for five key sectors, and this is how they work with each one to support their sustainability goals.

Textiles

Fast fashion is getting a bad rap these days as a significant contributor to climate change, as well as polluting land and waterways due to the use of many plastic-based materials. But as sustainability moves higher on the agenda of all industries, a new generation of plant-based textiles coming from forests, including modal, lyocell, viscose, and rayon, are being used by more and more manufacturers.

These textiles are generally made from cellulose fibers found in plant cell walls, but they often come from poorly managed forests and contribute to deforestation. Other natural alternatives like cotton have a very resource-intensive, and synthetic materials that tend to be cheaper are plastics that have a significant environmental cost.

However, by encouraging textile manufacturers to use FSC-certified forest-based materials that have been sustainably produced we can reduce the impact that the raw materials used in the fashion industry have on the environment. FSC certification guarantees that the textiles used in clothing came from environmentally responsible and legal sources, giving consumers peace of mind.

Furniture

Furniture manufacturers use many forest materials throughout the production process, including plywood, chipboard, and solid wood. They are very interested in FSC-certified wood because it satisfies environmental standards and is very attractive to consumers.

Even with plastic taking over in so many areas of our lives, wood is still hugely popular when it comes to furniture. But consumers still want to know that their interior design won’t be contributing to deforestation, so they look for the FSC logo.  

Construction

There has always been a high demand for wood as a material among homeowners, especially as it’s energy-efficient as well as beautiful. But wood sourced from poorly managed forests can contribute to deforestation and environmental degradation.

Using responsibly sourced wood products from well-managed forests can help reduce emissions coming from the construction sector.

Plus, integrating responsible forestry standards and being able to use the FSC trademark on a construction project shows support for environmental goals and can be an added asset when promoting it.

Packaging

This has traditionally been a significant source of waste and overuse of plastic, but consumers are starting to pay more attention to what packaging their products come in. Companies are catching on and finding ways to both reduce excess packaging and use more sustainable materials.

By having the FSC logo on the packaging, the brands show their commitment to building more sustainable practices. And it might be the deciding factor that sways a consumer towards one brand or another.

Retail

Retailers have direct contact with the end consumers, so they can significantly influence their choices. Following consumer demands, many retailers are developing their own sustainability strategies and partner with manufacturers who also carry the FSC label.

This gives a powerful message to shoppers and helps shape their shopping habits and preferences.

 

Sustainability initiatives are no longer merely a nice thought. With so much customer focus on them, they are becoming an essential part of the social responsibility strategy for any company that wants to grow in the long term.

And with 50% of consumers worldwide recognizing the FSC label and trusting in the environmental work behind it, according to a Globescan survey, the FSC certifications have become a very powerful tool that businesses can leverage when working towards their sustainability goals.

 

Sustainable Forestry

Sustainable forest management aims to ensure that there is a continuous supply of timber and non-timber forest products. Sustainability also means preserving the processes and structures that create, support, and sustain forests by integrating conservation and development goals. To accomplish these goals, sustainable forest management combines principles from forestry, agriculture, environmental protection, economics, ecology, and sociology.

The Role of Sustainable Forest Management

The role of sustainable forest management is to ensure that forests continue to provide the ecosystem processes that society depends upon. Forests are important for a wide variety of reasons: they prevent soil erosion, regulate water resources, purify the air, and protect biodiversity (by providing wildlife habitat).

Moreover, they have an enormous capacity for carbon storage. Currently, about 350 billion tons of carbon are stored in the world’s forests, which is about 65% of the global total. As an alternative to deforestation, sustainable forest management allows for harvesting timber while maintaining its ecological, economic, and social functions.

Forest Management

The term “forest management” refers to a range of activities required to care for the forest from conception to harvest. These activities include planning the harvesting schedule, silviculture, and road building. Forest management requires up-to-date information about the forest’s standing stock of timber and non-timber products such as herbs, resins, fibers, and its connectivity with other forests to ensure a continuous flow of products into the marketplace. To maintain these connections, a clear understanding of the forest needs to be developed; this requires an analysis of how the forest functions.

Sustainability Indicators

Indicators are used to measure changes in forests and determine whether they are being managed sustainably. Changes can be measured by collecting data on indicators such as carbon storage or biodiversity over time. These indicators are vital for measuring progress toward sustainability goals. The key sustainable forest management indicator is the change in biomass or carbon storage over time.

Researchers measure carbon storage using above-ground biomass combined with estimates of deadwood densities at different ages. This approach allows them to calculate the amount of total stored carbon in a forest, which varies with tree size and age class distribution within a forest.

Sometimes, a change in carbon storage is also viewed as an indicator of governmental policies because ‘how’ a society uses its forests impacts the total amount of carbon stored. For example, if deforestation increases while reforestation and afforestation decrease this may indicate that it will not be easy for countries to achieve their greenhouse gas emission reduction targets under the Kyoto Protocol.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Forests play an integral role in mitigating global warming by sequestering large amounts of atmospheric carbon and increasing biodiversity, protecting watersheds and reducing erosion. Because forests account for about 46% of all terrestrial photosynthesis they remove significant amounts of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2).

Trees use CO2 from the atmosphere in photosynthesis, converting it into wood and leaves. When the trees die, decomposition returns this carbon to the atmosphere where it is available for re-uptake by plants during subsequent growth. Reducing forest cover and biodiversity will result in lower levels of stored carbon.

Carbon Sequestration Capacity

Forests can sequester more than 1 million metric tons of carbon per square kilometer (km2) over long periods (100 years or more), with the amount varying depending on factors such as climate, soil conditions, and tree diversity. The Taiga, for example, stores the most carbon per unit area. However, tropical rain forests may contain more carbon overall because they tend to exhibit more biodiversity and density than forests in other parts of the world.

The primary aim of sustainable forest management is to increase biomass through active management rather than natural processes such as fire or disease. Depending on the type of land-use management, a country can achieve either negative net emissions from its forestry sector by slashing tree numbers and allowing forests to mature until harvesting starts some years later, or positive net emissions by increasing levels of biomass through practices like reforestation. In fact, afforestation has become one of the most successful tools in reducing net emission levels globally.

Under the Kyoto Protocol, a country accounts for carbon sequestered from its forests within its national greenhouse gas emissions account. This calculation is based on data submitted by each country to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Carbon Emissions Reductions

As well as storing carbon, forests also reduce greenhouse gas concentration by acting as a sink for atmospheric CO2 emissions. The most effective way to reduce net emissions from the forestry sector is to ensure that trees are planted faster than they are being cut down, at least until this balance is achieved. Increased tree planting will result in accompanying social and environmental benefits like maintaining biodiversity and increasing water quality.

Growth of Forests on Former Croplands

Planting forests on cropland is one way to combat climate change. Estimates indicate that if 10% of the world’s arable land were converted back into forests. This would be equivalent to removing half of all cars from roads or closing down 300 coal-fired power stations.

Similarly, successful governmental policies can be adopted around the world to help combat climate change afforestation, such as offering tax breaks to organizations that plant trees or providing subsidies for renewable energy.

Challenges in Sustainable Forest Management

  • Human activities impair the ability of forests to sequester carbon by either causing deforestation or altering the species makeup of existing forests. For example, if native species are replaced with non-native ones while replanting efforts are in place, then there will not be as many environmental benefits because the new plants do not support wildlife. These negative impacts can only be avoided through better education and stricter governmental policies.
  • Effective management of forests requires an understanding of the area’s history, as well as current policies that affect forest use. For example, if a country has under-reported past deforestation amounts and reforestation efforts are not successful, then carbon levels will not decrease and greenhouse gas levels will increase. Countries should be diligent in reporting accurate information on deforestation rates so that proper corrective action can be taken.
  • The success of sustainable forestry is largely dependent on the overall goals of both environmental protection and human economic entitlement. This approach to forest management can only work if all parties are committed to protecting the environment while also ensuring their economic interests are met.

Sustainable forest management employs the use of sustainable forest management indicators, such as monitoring biodiversity or measuring changes in carbon storage. Sustainable forest management is not only a set of techniques that can be applied to forests but also an ideology that encompasses all aspects of political, social, and economic life.

Man at laptop entering data for sustainability ratings

Are You Ready for Sustainability Scoring?

For many companies, the economic downturn in 2020 meant that sustainability was less important than survival. Supply chains were tested, shocked, and stretched with the results being an extended wait for critical replenishment or empty shelves altogether.

The need for sustainable policies didn’t evaporate as businesses continued to call for mitigating their impact on the environment. However, keeping the lights on became the number one priority.

As the country begins to return to some sense of normalcy with the coronavirus pandemic receding and companies in recovery mode, many are looking to renew their pledge to sustainability in the supply chain. Prompted by climate change predictions that are growing increasingly extreme, they are implementing changes with a restored sense of urgency.

To accelerate their aims, many companies are utilizing third party sources to evaluate their operations in regard to sustainability. As the pallet industry can be a vital piece in these efforts, many providers in our industry are getting questions from customers about sustainable practices or are learning more about these ratings. In today’s blog post at Nature’s Packaging, we will take a look at one of these popular third-party sources that customers use to help rate and score their sustainability commitments, a company known as EcoVadis.

Sustainability Scoring-EcoVadis

To date, EcoVadis has rated over 75,000 companies worldwide. They provide a multi-dimensional sustainability rating of companies. The EcoVadis sustainability process is based on 7 core principles that are designed to measure the quality of a company’s sustainability policies, actions, and results.

  • Evidence Based – supporting documents are a critical burden of proof. These can be certifications, policy documents, reporting KPI’s. Credit is given only where evidence is provided.
  • Industry, Location, and Size – sustainability management is evaluated considering material industry issues, presence in risk countries, and the size and geographical footprint of the company.
  • Diversification of Sources – in addition to the evidence based internal supporting documents, the viewpoint of organizations around the company are taken into consideration. These can be trade unions, local authorities, and other third-party organizations that work with the company.
  • Technology – a rating system can only become reliable if supported by technology. Technology is the key to learning, growth, and scalability.
  • Assessment by International Sustainability Experts – supporting documents are analyzed by a team of sustainability experts who keep track of the latest best practices in sustainability.
  • Traceability and Transparency – every document used in the rating process is stored securely and can be traced back. Rated companies have access, if needed, to the most detailed results and to each scoring decision.
  • Excellence Through Continuous Improvement – A professional rating methodology is open to quality controls, continuous improvement, and feedback from stakeholders.

*from EcoVadis Ratings Methodology Overview and Principles

The assessment considers a range of sustainability issues, which are grouped into four broad themes:

  • Environment
  • Labor and Human Rights
  • Ethics
  • Sustainable Procurement

The evidence-based assessments are distilled into scorecards, providing zero to one hundred (0-100) scores when applicable.

  • 85-100 Outstanding
  • 65-84 Advanced
  • 45-64 Good
  • 25-44 Partial
  • 0-24 Insufficient

The scorecards provide direction on strengths and areas that may need improvement. The rated companies can use their scorecards to focus efforts and evolve plans that improve their sustainability performance. A rated company can also compare their score to benchmarks in their industry.

Through their services, EcoVadis provides a platform that drives companies to collaborate with their supplier/partners and have them rated as well. All devised to propel continuous improvement in a company’s sustainability program and bring it to a more comprehensive level.

The sustainable supply chain is a strategic directive for many executive leaders. The benefits of achieving supply chain sustainability are numerous. It can reduce the risk of disruption, serve as a guard for brand reputation, lower costs through collaboration with upstream and downstream participants, and add a significant market advantage with consumers who are much more aware of a company’s efforts to implement a green and responsible supply chain.

For our part, the pallet industry doesn’t struggle with sustainability, we embrace it. The ability to incorporate wood products and processes into a customer’s sustainability goals makes for an easy win when it comes to policies in a company green supply chain. As a service provider to companies that utilize third-party sources like EcoVadis, we have many resources available that will help provide that necessary evidence-based documentation. Visit the NWPCA’s website to learn more, download those important documents, and be ready when your customers talk to you about sustainability ratings and scorecards.

The Triple Bottom Line

As issues related to climate change, recycling of resources, and carbon emissions become ever more important to the public, many companies are being guided by the present social awareness and political initiatives to implement more sustainability practices into their normal business operations.

Additionally, many C-suite executives of companies are using their leadership to focus on corporate social responsibility plans that incorporate sustainability to save energy, reduce waste, and find alternative uses for the byproducts of their processes. One of the key areas for this exercise is in a company’s supply chain.

A successful sustainable supply chain operates by generating competitive returns on the use of its’ assets without forfeiting the requirements of internal stakeholders and the external partners that are a part of that chain. This is accomplished with legitimate concern for the effect of those operations on the environment and all the people involved.

A fundamental question that arises is how to connect the practice of sustainability with supply chain operations in a way that is meaningful, measurable, and manageable. Enter the “Triple Bottom Line” (TBL) or the three P’s – People, Planet, Profits. In today’s post at Nature’s Packaging, we will take a look at the Triple Bottom Line and how the wooden pallet industry plays an integral part in sustainable supply chains.

What Is The Triple Bottom Line?

In the mid-1990’s, author and activist John Elkington worked to develop an accounting framework that aimed to measure the impact of a company’s operations along three dimensions:  service to community, environmental impact, and economics. Rather than focus solely on the bottom line as profit, companies needed to enact sustainable development and tie it to corporate social responsibility as a means to holistically make the world a better place. The end result, according to Elkington and other adherents, is a positive outcome for all stakeholders and customers that improves business operations.

“Sustainable development involves the simultaneous pursuit of economic prosperity, environmental quality, and social equity. Companies aiming for sustainability need to perform not against a single, financial bottom line but against the triple bottom line”-John Elkington

Corporate Leadership & TBL

When the triple bottom line of people, planet, profits are put into action in supply chain operations, the values outlined are determined by a company’s mission statement, strategy, management, owners, partners, and customers. Each one of these segments aids in creating the tactics, functions, goals, and expectations that demonstrate a commitment to the policies and guidelines developed in a sustainability plan.

It is the job of executive leadership to properly articulate a program that includes consistent feedback from the ground floor upward as each level, from the warehouse worker to C-suite themselves, will need to understand their role and how it may change in order to execute effectively overall.

Fundamentally, an active supply chain sustainability plan incorporates lean management principles as it is utilized to identify and eliminate waste in process and materials. This means that quantitatively, a measurement of the elements mentioned previously (tactics, functions, goals, and expectations) according to a TBL framework, involves assigning a financial criterion to outcomes that are desired and align to a sustainability model.

People, Planet, Profits, Pallets

To put the above statements in more concrete terms and involve an aspect of financial criteria, it is best to take examples that are easily identifiable in terms of not only supply chain operations, but business operations overall as they often can overlap in achievement of goals.

For example, one method of pegging sustainability as a people-oriented goal in supply chain operations can be reduction of lost workdays due to injury. In fact, this is very often in used in warehouse and manufacturing settings when it is noticeably posted in a high traffic area for all the workers to see. Another way is to measure improvements to worker safety by logging all warnings issued and comparing the volume over a set period of time.

More intangible, but no less important, would be opportunities for education that advances the skillset of workers on the floor and allowing managerial staff to play the role of mentor. All of these initiatives are measurable in terms of participation and can improve the quality of work and output by staff.

In a larger sense, especially as it relates to environmental impact (read: planet), sustainability can be measured in the amount of energy used by various facilities and assets, and the source of the energy itself. In example, many warehouse facilities are incorporating solar energy as an on-site source.

Another example, overall usage of resources like water and tracking the amounts utilized in various processes within the supply chain. The recycling and re-use of various packaging used in the transportation of materials throughout the supply chain is another common metric and easily adapted to sustainability goals.

Sustainability in terms of profits can be measured as an end result to all the initiatives implemented in a TBL-based plan. This includes measuring the level of efficient use of revenue from top to bottom line in reference to sustainability goals from a business unit perspective (supply chain operations, production, administrative, etc.).

In supply chain operations, the utilization of assets and warehouse throughput as measured in key performance indicators against the framework of triple bottom line is one way to integrate sustainability goals to performance goals.

Pallet management operations for customers are a perfect fit in terms of sustainability goals. The pallet industry lends itself quite well to achieve of those goals as a natural part of supply chain operations. Standard operating procedure in a pallet management scenario includes tracking of materials as recycling and re-used.

Additionally, documents like the Pallet Environmental Product Declaration and the Life Cycle Assessment add to the credibility of both the service provider and the customer. Further, The Nature’s Packaging website offers tools like the carbon calculator that gives a tangible sum to pallet recycling efforts by customer companies and their direct positive effect on the carbon emissions of a company’s operations.

In supply chain operations, the triple bottom line to sustainability is a path built by the stakeholders, both inside and outside of the organization. The path advances as growth and improvements are recognized in business units, employees, leadership, and the learned development of best practices in sustainability. Triple bottom line supply chain practices lead to innovation and progress. These in turn create real profit and higher quality standards throughout the chain. As always, the wooden pallet and container industry stands ready, willing, and able to assist in the effort.

 

pile of pallet wood scraps ready for recycling

How Wood Pallets are Recycled into New Products

Wood pallets are highly sustainable, in part because of their high rate of recyclability. According to the latest research available, 508 million wood pallets are produced annually in the U.S. each year, while only 25 million of them end up in landfills, down from 178.5 million in 1998.

Old wood pallet material is utilized in many creative ways. With a laudable recycling rate of 95%, most end-of-life wood pallets are processed to create other products. Recovered lumber is used for pallet repair or re-manufactured pallet components as well as other purposes, while unusable lumber is reduced to fiber for many applications.

This approach improves the economics as well as the sustainability of pallet recycling. Recovered wood is much less expensive than virgin material, and as such, it provides cost advantages versus new components both for repair as well as pallet re-manufacturing.

There are also sustainability advantages associated with this practice, known as “cascading use”. Cascading use refers to the method of recovering material for the next most valuable alternative – such as pallet boards, and eventually, fiber. This approach reduces the carbon footprint impact at each stage of use thanks to recycled material availability, which is much less carbon-intensive to produce than virgin fiber alternatives.

Here is what happens to end-of-life pallets:

Recovered pallet repair components

When pallets are too severely damaged to repair, or they are not a popular size, pallet recyclers typically dismantle them using a bandsaw dismantler. Broken components are sent to the grinder, while pallet recyclers use intact pallet boards or stringers to repair other pallets.

Recovered components used to build combo or re-manufactured pallets

Recyclers also use intact recovered pallet components in the assembly of combo or re-manufactured pallets. The variability of sizing in recovered pallet boards and stringers makes them more challenging to work with than new material. Increasingly, the pallet industry is turning to automated nailing systems as well as lumber sizing and sorting machinery to enhance the efficiency of re-manufacturing.

Recovered solid wood used for upcycling crafts or architectural projects

Old pallets have become extremely popular for upcycling arts and crafts projects, as well as pallet art. Architectural trends such as industrial chic embrace the look of weathered pallet wood material. As a result, some pallet recyclers are also now selling recovered pallet lumber to home builders for installations such as feature walls.

Fiber used to manufacture new products

Where nearby manufacturing plants exist, fiber can be utilized in wood composite products such as particleboard and fiberboard sheets for construction, and as filler in absorbent socks for spill containment. Wood fiber is also used in material handling products such as wood composite pallet blocks, molded wood plugs and pallets.

Fiber for mulch, bedding, and soil amendments

Popular applications for recycled fiber including colored landscaping mulch as well as animal bedding and soil amendments. A soil amendment is when wood fiber is added to soil to improve its water retention, permeability, water infiltration, drainage, and aeration. The goal of a soil amendment is to create a better environment for roots to take hold within the soil.

Fiber for biomass

Wood fiber is used as boiler fuel as well as in other applications to generate energy. Aside from bulk fiber, wood fiber can also be compressed or densified into more compact products such as pellets, cubes, briquettes or fire-logs. Densified products have a higher value and are more economical to ship a greater distance.

Fiber for emerging applications

Ongoing research continues to uncover new applications for wood fiber, while other markets are anticipated to grow. Fiber applications expected to play a larger role in the future include biochar, a soil amendment utilizing charcoal, and cross-laminated timber (CLT). CLT involves the usage of smaller pieces of wood to manufacture larger panels.

The discussion above illustrates how pallet recycling follows the cascading use principle, utilizing material for its next most valuable use, whether as pallet boards, feature walls, or several fiber products. Such an approach optimizes the economic value of wood while enhancing its sustainability story.

 

recycled pallet stacks

The Sustainable Supply Chain – Forest Products (Part 1)

As supply chain decision-makers urgently turn their focus toward sustainability, they are looking at opportunities to reduce CO2 emissions through initiatives such as renewable energy, transportation optimization, IoT (internet of Things), and more. But have you considered how wood pallet and packaging recycling can make a difference for your sustainability aspirations?

The funny thing about pallets, like other things in life, is that if you aren’t aware of them, they are easy to overlook. In the United States, there are 2 billion of them hiding in plain sight. If we assume 50 lbs of wood per pallet, that amount translates into 100 billion pounds of wood, which sequesters roughly 45 to 50 billion pounds of carbon. We will return to the CO2 reduction benefits of wood pallet and container reuse and recycling in the next post.

Once people become aware of pallets, however, some folks are surprised to realize that pallets are on the job almost everywhere in supply chains from inbound material at the production plant to supporting unit loads arriving at the retail outlet.

As the National Wood Pallet & Container Association states, “Pallets Move the World®”. According to one report, around 94% of industrial and consumer goods in the United States travel on a pallet at some point in their supply chain journey from producer to distribution location to end customer.

Wood Packaging in the Supply Chain

The MH1-2016 standard defines the pallet as a “portable, horizontal, rigid, composite platform used as (a) base for assembling, storing, stacking, handling and transporting goods as a unit load; often equipped with (a) superstructure.” When products are stacked on top of a pallet, the combination of goods and a pallet is known as a unit load.

The mechanized handling of materials in unit loads offers many benefits versus the manual handling of goods. This practice helps protect sensitive products from damage associated with “touch labor” or manually repositioning each box, for example. The pallet also protects products during interaction with material handling equipment such as forklifts, conveyors, pallet storage racks and automated storage and retrieval systems. Palletized unit loads can be stored more efficiently than unpalletized goods in most storage systems or through the stacking of unit loads. Palletization also dramatically increases the speed of loading and unloading versus floor loaded or unpalletized goods, and through the avoidance of manual handling, improves workplace safety.

Pallets or wood packaging may be used for a single supply chain link or to move goods through multiple links. For example, plywood orchard bins move fresh tree fruit to the packing shed where it is packed and palletized onto a wood pallet. The bin is reused in the orchard, while the pallet is employed for delivery of packaged fruit to a grocery distribution center, and then perhaps as the base for a full unit load or a mixed pallet load assembled for delivery to the retail outlet. In a mainframe computer supply chain, on the other hand, components may arrive palletized, with the sensitive finished product then shipped in a custom wood container to the customer location.

In part 2, we will take a look at the life cycle and recycling of wood packaging and the positive impact that recycling has on carbon emissions.

Sustainability Ties

Sustainability and Recycling for Corporate Leaders

Corporate Sustainability

Sustainability for Corporate Leaders

The buck stops at the top when it comes to corporate leadership and environmental responsibility. Sustainability has become a core element of corporate strategy, and the creation of effective policies and programs plays a crucial role in supporting it. From the time the term was coined over 25 years ago, the Triple Bottom Line of Planet (environmental performance), People (social performance) and Profit (economic performance) has increasingly found its way into the lexicon of leadership.

Not that many years ago, recycling and zero waste initiatives were viewed by executives as convenient proxies for sustainability. Having an active recycling program was offered as proof of a company’s commitment to the environment. Now, however, companies are grappling with a broader view of sustainability that also focuses on carbon footprint, water conservation, plastic pollution, and other environmental priorities.

Business leaders must also be mindful of greenwashing claims and the reputational damage it can cause, as well as address the challenges of achieving high recycling rates in increasingly complex supply chains. It is well worth the effort, however. An emphasis on zero waste and sustainability can help deliver positive economic outcomes.

Creating Recycling Policies and Programs

Recycling policy, like other corporate policies, provides guidance, consistency, accountability, and clarity on how an organization operates. While policy speaks to guiding principles, programs are interventions designed to help achieve policy goals. For instance, a company may have a zero-waste policy and institute programs to support it such as facility recycling or composting initiatives.

In Sony’s recycling policy, for example, the company states that it “subscribes to the principle of individual producer responsibility (IPR), that is, the idea that a producer bears responsibility for its products over their entire life cycle.” In order to meet this commitment, the company is “focused on recycling-oriented product design, collection and recycling used products, and building global recycling systems that suit the needs of individual countries and regions.”

The development of a recycling program typically stems from the creation of a policy, followed by nominating a project manager and assembling a team. One of the early steps in the process is to conduct a detailed waste audit to clarify the types and volumes of materials involved. From there, a recycling plan can be created. After launching the program, it should be monitored to measure its success in diverting materials from the trash. And by celebrating the program’s accomplishments, the company can help build employee engagement and reinforce behaviors that support the recycling effort. Recycling@Work offers a 10-step action plan for implementing a workplace recycling program.

Greenwashing

The term “greenwashing” refers to the practice of making unsubstantiated or misleading environmental claims by a company about its products, services, or operations. Another definition refers to it as a situation when a company invests more in marketing itself as environmentally friendly than on minimizing its environmental impact. Customers and employees alike are becoming increasingly sensitive to greenwashing. It can damage brands and employee engagement. It is also against the law.

In 2019, for instance, Miami Beach-based retailer Truly Organic Inc. (Truly Organic) and its founder and CEO were ordered to pay $1.76 million to settle a Federal Trade Commission complaint alleging that their nationally marketed bath and beauty products are neither “100% organic” nor “certified organic” by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The company advertised its products as vegan, even though certain products contain non-vegan ingredients like honey and lactose, according to the complaint.

Organizations can guard against greenwashing claims by taking safeguards such as the following:

  1. Avoid using fuzzy or general claims such as natural, eco-friendly, sustainable or planet-safe
  2. When using more specific green terminology, understand the meaning and ensure that you use the terms accurately.
  3. Make sure that claims are evidence-based, and that you have the data to back them up.
  4. Do not make claims about environmental improvements your company has made if they were required to achieve regulatory compliance.
  5. Transparency matters. Be honest about where your company is in its sustainability journey. Don’t lie by omission, for example, if your efforts to be more green pale in comparison to your overall footprint.
  6. Do not tout your sustainability superiority if you have suppliers or customers who have a very poor sustainability record.

Recycling in the supply chain

Corporate recycling programs that concentrate on a facility approach can successfully divert recyclable materials but find themselves hard-pressed to address the challenges of nonrecyclable or difficult-to-recycle materials. Companies are coming to recognize that in order to achieve zero waste, a supply chain approach to recycling may be required. Through aligning procurement with the recycling initiative, companies can make more powerful change. They can leverage their buying power to request packaging that is easily recyclable, for example, as well as packaging that is made from recycled material. Having a corporate pallet policy and working with suppliers, for instance, can help companies avoid accumulating and dealing with broken or odd-sized pallets.

Recycling is also an important consideration from the customer perspective. As in the case of Sony, mentioned above, companies are increasingly mindful of the recycling implications of their packaging and products for customers. Ease of recycling is part of overall customer engagement with a product and can no longer be ignored. According to the 2019 EcoFocus Trend Survey, 71% of consumers overall, and 76% of Millennials, said they feel positive towards companies that use recyclable packaging.

The Positive Economic Impact

A Triple Bottom Line approach is the right thing to do, and it is also good business. Attention to recycling and sustainability resonates with many customers and helps improve brand image. It also strikes a positive chord with employees. According to the Deloitte Millennial Survey 2019, younger workers “show deeper loyalty to employers who boldly tackle the issues that resonate with them most, such as protecting the environment.”

As for the relationship between sustainability and profitability, Bank of America Merrill Lynch found in 2018 that companies with a better ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) record than their peers delivered higher three-year returns, had a greater likelihood of becoming high-quality stocks and were less likely to experience large price declines or bankruptcy.

As the Triple Bottom Line approach becomes more pervasive, sustainability concerns are becoming integral to corporate strategy. Corporate leaders are embracing the importance of recycling and zero waste initiatives within the broader context of their corporate sustainability aspirations.

What is Supply Chain Sustainability?

What is Supply Chain Sustainability?

Corporations are under more significant pressure than ever before as we collectively strive for a more sustainable future. They increasingly recognize that much of the work to be done extends far beyond the four walls of factories and retail locations. We have learned that procurement decisions made locally can have far-reaching sustainability impacts involving distant suppliers or downstream, directly contributing to product end of life waste streams. According to CDP’s Global Supply Chain Report 2019, companies generate 5.5 times more emissions throughout their supply chain than they make from internal operations.

We now know that the best way to ensure sustainability is to take a supply chain approach. Our perspective must consider the sustainability impacts for input suppliers as well as for customers and society.

Supply chain sustainability has been described as “a holistic view of supply chain processes, logistics, and technologies that address the environmental, social, economic, and legal aspects of a supply chain’s components.” SCS is mindful of variables such as solid waste generation, carbon footprint, pollution, deforestation, and the welfare of workers. Companies now recognize that an SCS emphasis is not only good for the planet but also essential for building positive brand awareness and improving longterm profitability.

Origins/History of Supply Chain Sustainability

Corporate sustainability efforts generally predated supply chain initiatives. The latter approach has become more important in recent decades. Company-specific sustainability practices date back to the 18th and 19th Centuries. In 1853, Sir Titus Salt, a U.K. industrialist, created a model village for his mill workers called Saltaire. Likewise, the Cadbury and Rowntree dynasties of that time were involved in similar schemes, providing parks, hospitals, museums for their factory employees.

By the 1980s, corporate social responsibility had gradually become part of mainstream corporate strategy, with the introduction of transparency and traceability considerations, especially regarding labor rights. In the 1990s, the importance of taking a broader perspective continued to grow. Several examples of international corporate exploitation surfaced, requiring businesses to address sustainability through a supply chain lens.

The 1990s and beyond also saw the introduction of third party certification and fair trade schemes to help companies make more informed sustainability decisions. The Forestry Stewardship Council was created in 1990, and the Marine Stewardship Council was launched in 1997. Such groups brought together non-governmental organizations and businesses alike to establish responsible resource management practices.

SCS management continues to evolve from the aspirational to the quantitative. Companies increasingly look to achieve sustainability metrics such as “Zero to Landfill” as well as “Net Zero” CO2 reductions. Ongoing advances in technology have made it easier for participants to achieve transparency in their supply chains as well as to track their progress toward meeting quantifiable targets.

Examples of sustainable supply chain practices

Companies have developed several practices aimed at improving their SCS performance. Popular approaches, as outlined in Introduction of Green Supply Chain Management, include the following:
Green procurement – People call it “the power of the purse.” Companies can boost a supply chain’s overall sustainability by purchasing materials and components that have positive characteristics such as renewability, reusability, and recyclability, when purchased from vendors that meet required sustainability requirements.
Green manufacturing – The implementation of SCS accountability measures and practices help mitigate the harmful effects of manufacturing activity.
Product design improvements – Products can be designed to use less material, to use recycled content, or to last longer. According to the European Commission, nearly 80% of a product’s environmental impact can be improved through eco-design.
Green transportation and reverse logistics – According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, transportation is the single largest source of Co2 emissions, generating 1.9 billion tons annually. As such, initiatives to reduce emissions through electric vehicles or renewable fuels, as well as improved freight optimization, can make a difference. Effective reverse logistics has also become increasingly important as we look to increase reuse and recovery of products and materials in support of a circular economy.
Renewable energy and biofuels – Supply chains rely heavily on fossil fuel, which is the leading cause of global warming and greenhouse gas emissions. A transition to renewable energy and biofuels can help propel companies toward their environmental targets.

Industries best suited to SCS practices

Industries best suited to SCS practices are those that can most easily transition from the “take-make-waste” model so prevalent today. Every sector, however, can reduce its environmental impact through the implementation of sustainable practices, as outlined in the section above. Generally speaking, supply chains that utilize renewable resources are best suited, such as sustainable forestry and agricultural practices, for example. The exploitation of non-renewable resources poses a significant challenge to SCS and requires the implementation of mechanisms such as sharing, reuse, refurbishment, and ultimately material recovery to promote sustainability.

Company examples

Top SCS performers are found in several different industries. For example, Supply Chain Digital’s Top 10 largest sustainable supply chains worldwide includes Accenture (professional services), Apple (technology), Coca Cola (food and beverage), Rolls-Royce (manufacturing), Tokyo Gas (energy), Sky (entertainment and communications), NRG Energy (energy), Microsoft (technology), Sodexo (food service), and Taiwan Semiconductor (technology). Approaches common to successful supply chains include transitioning to renewable energy, eco-friendly product design, and enlightened procurement practices that help improve overall SCS.

Wood packaging and SCS

And speaking of enlightened procurement practices, solid wood packaging selection helps support sustainability in several ways. It is sourced from renewable forests and sequesters carbon, while pallets and packaging are in use. Additionally, it requires less energy to produce than most commonly-used building materials and possesses a negative carbon footprint. Another bonus is that wood packaging is typically made from less popular low-grade lumber, thus ensuring full utilization of harvested trees. Wood pallets are widely reused and refurbished, and recovered components are used to build new pallets. Meanwhile, damaged material is ground into wood fiber material to serve a variety of end-use markets. Overall, wood pallets enjoy an enviable recycling rate of 95%.

The SCS opportunity for wood packaging continues to improve as technology offers new opportunities. Technologies aimed at reducing empty freight miles are helping supply chains reduce the cost and greenhouse gas impacts of empty pallet re-positioning. Additionally, the increasing development of IoT technologies for tracking promises to unlock novel insights into supply chain processes and fresh opportunities to make further SCS gains.

The GreenBlue Program

The GreenBlue Program

The GreenBlue Program is one which has broad support from the U.S. Forest Service, as well as public corporations such as McDonald’s, Mars, and Staples, with the stated goal of developing a new forest sustainability tool called Forests in Focus, and using it to increase sustainability and the certified supply of wood products. Forests in Focus is a digital mapping tool which will complement the initiative for certifying family-owned forests as sustainable, and as being managed with an appropriate level of respect for conservation. Nearly 40% of the commercial wood fiber produced in the U.S. comes from family-owned forests, but only about 1% of the source forests are certified for sustainability and environmental friendliness.

Image supplied by Flickr; Distributed under CC-BY 2.0 License

Problems with certification

Up to the present, certification of family-owned forests has not been so much an issue of unacceptable management processes, as it has been an issue of the certification process itself having little benefit for owners of such assets, while also being very costly to acquire. This is why the American Forest Foundation (AFF) has joined forces with the Forest Service in backing the GreenBlue Program, so as to get all the parties together, in an effort to understand the issues hindering certification.

The group has made significant progress, beginning with discussions about how to increase forest certification, and then progressing into exploring options on how to achieve greater access for monitoring, and potentially certifying, the vast lands currently belonging to the un-certified category of forest land. It has also addressed sustainability issues on the ground floor of these operations, and has hosted discussions with brand owners who cannot secure sufficient quantities of wood from certified forests.

How GreenBlue will help supply and sustainability

The partnership of big corporations, the American Forest Foundation, the U.S. Forest Service, and the Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI), is paying dividends, as participants in the joint program have identified issues with the supply chain and have gained a better understanding of the importance of family-owned forests. When added to existing initiatives for certification, support for the GreenBlue Program should help bring in many more family-owned forest lands and increase certifications dramatically.

The new digital mapping tool, Forests in Focus, will help to identify gaps in sustainability wherever family-owned forest lands exist, so that such owners can be approached and assisted with obtaining certification. The hope is to involve a great many more family-owned enterprises in the certification process, so that supply chain shortages can be relieved, and so sustainable methods can be ensured on those lands where it might not currently exist.

In order to accomplish this, a vast amount of data must be gathered, correlated, and analyzed, so that the most informed decisions can be made about where to focus attention. Information on forest status, local trends, species, size, growth rates, mortality, and harvest rates must all be aggregated for analysis, so that visual depictions of the data can be developed, and then used to maximum effect by all of the participants in the GreenBlue program.

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